Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Some light reading for a blue-skyed spring day

A Manhattan theater has pulled the newest United 93 trailer after audiences voiced their dismay. "I don't think people are ready for this," the AMC Loews Lincoln Square manager told Newsweek. "One lady was crying. She was saying that we shouldn't have played the trailer. That this was wrong."

I first saw the trailer a week and a half ago, before Inside Man. It played between previews for fellow disaster movie Poseidon and spoon-full-of-sugar Akeelah and the Bee. (Sidebar: Is anyone else monumentally tired of theatre and film using a spelling bee as a pretense for narrative? I mean, it's a spelling bee). Anyway, there was no reaction from the audience -- visibly, audibly, either in awe or in disgust. I myself squirmed slightly, just like I did when I caught the flag-flapping, heart-tugging end of A&E's TV movie Flight 93 a month or so ago. I can't explain the squirm. Was it a function of "too soon"? Or awkwardness over the "commercialization" of a now-sacred catastrophe? Or fear of an actual reprisal? Or worry about the film being used as a rallying cry against any and all dissenters? Or did I squirm because that's the tsk-tsk response I thought I should feel?

Tact aside: I think the story of United Flight 93 is fodder for great drama. Hell, it was great drama. Can you imagine? A group of disparates stuck in a metal tube, hearing news that the world was ending on the ground, knowing they were dead no matter what. Some of them acted selflessly. I'm sure others were paralyzed or adamant they follow the hijackers' orders. There were no doubt heroes and cowards. I hope the film shows both.

The movie opens April 28. I will see it, as will much of the country, out of masochistic curiosity. Maybe it's just me, but don't we get off on the eschatological? Think of the scads who sat through Titanic and Pearl Harbor again and again, reveling in every glistening moment of "real-life" tragedy. We get chills during Independence Day or The Day after Tomorrow as destruction looms and buildings fall. It's cathartic to experience these things, isn't it? It delivers us from the humdrum, gives our lives a sense of gravity, fatefulness and fatelessness.

We may not be "ready" for a feature film about 9/11, but it's absurd to decry the making and exhibiting of one as "wrong." Humans are storytellers, dummy. We tell stories to entertain, to enlighten and, yes, to make money. To fight a battle against a 9/11 movie would mean entering a perpetual and pointless war, with another skirmish on the horizon.

11 comments:

Write Or said...

Too soon. Did the families approve of this film? How much of the content is 100% accurate? Too soon.

J.J. said...

The director's statement on the official Web site said the movie was made with "the full support of the families of those on board."

In terms of accuracy, refer also to the Web site: "As there is no perfect record of the hijacking's exact details and hostage retaliation, Greengrass [the director] takes a careful hand and partially improvises the events with an ensemble cast of unknown actors who were given studies of their United 93 counterparts."

Sidebar: Some of these actors are not unknown. Some are, in fact, Broadway babies. Cheyenne Jackson, who plays passenger Mark Bingham, was the Elvis avatar in "All Shook Up." Chip Zien, who plays Mark Rothenberg, is a veteran of the New York and regional stages. Denny Dillon, who plays Colleen Fraser, was briefly on SNL in the early '80s. Peter Hermann, who plays Jeremy Glick, is maried to Mariska Hargitay. On that note, almost all of the cast have at least guested on Law & Order. But then again, who hasn't?

Questions: When would it not be "too soon" anymore? Eight years? 10? More? And how soon is it "too late"?

Middento said...

As unnerved as I was at the trailer (because, well, I was), I am actually curious to see how this film plays out. The events that unfold here are no more horrifying than such wonderful film subjects like Serbian or Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust. What I am curious about is how this will actually play out because -- and this will sound crass, but it is true -- we have already seen this on TV when it actually happened. These images have already been televised, so will audiences want to see the movie?

And JJ, if you had been a speller (were you?), you might recognize the narrative that is involved in a spelling be. I find spelling bees (and narrative about them) r-i-v-e-t-i-n-g.

J.J. said...

Good point about the film's audience already having seen the events on TV, but the demise of Flight 93 is something that was not seen. Also not seen: the events that took place *within* each plane. So there is definitely still a hook.

And the only thing I find more t-i-r-e-s-o-m-e than spelling bees is people who "spell out" words in a vain attempt at punnery.

cattleworks said...

Wow, t-u-f-f h-o-u-s-e.

Middento said...

Wow. Well, then. Since people like me are tiresome, I'll remember not to comment further. Sayoonara, JJ.

J.J. said...

I'm sorry, pookie!

Anonymous said...

I just remembered I was in a spelling bee in elementary school, grade 5. I came in second place to a very close friend at the time, Bruce Allen, and the word that was my downfall was "highball," (I'm not sure if I'm even spelling it correctly now...): yes, the name for an alcoholic drink! Grrrr!
Did I mention it was an elementary school spelling bee?

I'm not bitter...

But I digress...
Not having seen the trailer for FLIGHT 93 yet...
I do have some sympathy for poor movie goers who would deliberately avoid seeing such a movie (well-done or not) and then being blindsided by a trailer at the theater. If it was put together like a regular thriller/drama trailer (ie. clips from the film, showing tense highlights, etc.), which seems to be the case judging from the stills I see here.
Considering the NYC area would have a higher percentage of moviegoers who had some sort of first hand association with the 9/11 experience, I think the producers would've been a little more careful in handling their publicity.
For that specific market they could have had a more "neutral" campaign perhaps...

Anonymous said...

...I remember a trailer for THE EXORCIST back in '73 where it was just narration and the poster image (the famous shot of Max Von Sydow standing outside the house at night and looking up at Regan's lit bedroom window). The camera started in close-up, I think, on the window and as it slowly zoomed out revealing the whole image, a narrator ominously says something to the effect of, "In this bedroom is a little girl, etc. etc. etc."
The point is, being based on a bestseller, people familiar with the book were aware of the title and now they knew there was a movie.
The same way with the events of 9/11: I don't think people have forgotten. I think they could have put together something with a neutral image and some appropriate narration to let you know what the film was about. That alone would have been upsetting to those sensitive people, but it wouldn't throw gas on the emotional flames by having terrorists on the plane shoved in your face and terrified passengers reacting to this new, horrific situation. Which I'm assuming we're seeing to some degree.

It sounds like an interesting catch-22 for a producer. I think the subject matter is legitimate and not purely exploitive, but there will always be a part of the audience, perhaps the majority of the audience even, who will find any undertaking of this sort as being purely ghoulish and opportunistic. But, from a historical perspective, there is something to be said about trying to do this while it still is fresh in our memory. Hindsight will naturally come with time, and I think it will be interesting to see this film years later as well, because the way the filmmakers approached the subject may be reflected in specific ways that might not be obvious to us until years from now, too.

Hell, I'm just babbling away here...

and I'm not anonymous.
This is Cattleworks, having his usual computer problems...

J.J. said...

The neutral image and narration would've been the way to go.

Item. I don't think the attention is going to be focused on the appropriateness or quality of the film. This is going to be purely a numbers game -- how many people are going to see this movie. Which is funny, and indicative of the current cinema.

J.J. said...

This just in: http://www.nydailynews.com/front/story/407613p-345018c.html